Add another Hall of Fame coach to the growing list of inductees from Manteca, as Linda McNeel was recently honored by the San Joaquin County Office of Education with enshrinement into its Science Olympiad Hall of Fame.
McNeel, who recently retired from Tracy’s Jefferson Elementary School District, was informed by SJCOE’s Annie Cunial prior to receiving the honor at the annual event that showcases rigorous academic interscholastic competitions for students in grades 3-12.
“(Cunial) first assured me that I wouldn’t be expected to work that day, then revealed the ‘real’ reason, the induction ceremony,” said McNeel, married to retired teacher, John McNeel. “She had to tell me because she needed to send me a list of questions so she could tell my story (during the ceremony).”
Science Olympiad tournaments follow the format of popular board games, TV shows and athletic games. The events are balanced between the various science disciplines of biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, computers, and technology. There is a balance between events requiring knowledge of science facts, concepts, processes, skills, and science applications.
McNeel has been involved with the Science Olympiad for 18 years. As a fifth-grade teacher, she volunteered to help the official coaches of Jefferson School team.
“I learned so much from them,” said McNeel. “When they both went to other counties to work the next year, I decided to keep the team going by myself.”
McNeel has worn many hats over her years, especially in the A2 division (grades 3-6) of the Science Olympiad. She has also been the event manager for several competitions including “No Bones About It,” “A is for Anatomy,” “Starry Night,” and this year’s “Paper Rockets.”
“Her commitment to science education goes way beyond volunteering at the Olympiad,” said Zachary Johnson, SJCOE Public Information Officer.
At Jefferson, McNeel was a lead teacher in the Teaching Opportunities for Partners in Science (TOPS) program, a unique volunteer program that brings individuals with a background in science and other science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) fields into the classrooms to plan and co-present hands-on lessons with lead teachers at the school.
McNeel is still involved with TOPS as a volunteer.
She is also a community volunteer for MEANDER field trips at the historical Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center, located south of Manteca along the San Joaquin River.
“I was very blessed with some of the best administrators,” said McNeel, who acknowledged current Jefferson School District superintendent Dr. Jim Bridges, SJCOE assistant superintendent Jane Steinkamp, and Jefferson School principal Alyssa Wooten as instrumental in her support.
“Of course, the students themselves, especially the ones who challenged me, are each my favorites, too,” added McNeel when asked about her favorite part of teaching.
McNeel and her husband, who retired after teaching for 40 years, also raise guide dog puppies. They are first generation college graduates and their son has continued the tradition by earning a college degree, as well.
“She gets to interact with more students because they want to pet the dog,” said Johnson.
The McNeels moved to Manteca nearly two years ago after 27 years in Tracy.
“I literally celebrated my retirement from teaching, with my Jefferson staff, on a Friday and we moved here on Saturday, the next day,” said McNeel.
McNeel believes the engineering component of STEM is the most relevant part of STEM to the futures of today’s students. She said the teaching is more hands-on, so it is “real and memorable, for life.”
“Watching and being involved with how students look at and plan out, then finally solve a real-world problem is amazing,” said McNeel. “I think STEAM, including the arts, is the best thing for all people, young and old.”
McNeel’s selection into the Hall of Fame was based on how long she has been involved with the event and for making a positive contribution to the event, according to Johnson.
Johnson added that SJCOE is always looking for volunteers for TOPS at the Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center or to be a judge at the Science and Engineering Fair. Interested individuals can call STEM Programs at 209-468-4880. To volunteer for Science Olympiad and other academic-based competitions, call Student Events and Activities at 209-468-4866.